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St. John's basketball: Norm Roberts Out as Head Coach?

The NY Post's Lenn Robbins got the scoop that Norm Roberts is out at coach.

ESPN has run with it a little this afternoon. But there is no official word on Norm Roberts' status, and St. John's is disputing the report, responding that the Athletic Director Monasch will comment at the season's end.

Some fans are very jubilant; for this fan, this is a fairly logical decision. As Norm would say, you have to win in this league.

Assuming it's true, I wish Norm well, and hope he gets to stop off at Kansas for a year, or get some in-studio money doing play-by-play. He's better at understanding the game than people give him credit for. And if he gets a job at a local mid-major, I think he can do well. He is great at getting performances out of his more unheralded players, and has a bit of an eye for talent.

He just couldn't get the big talents to sign on to St. John's. The rumors, discussed below.

Again, these are rumors. But where there's smoke, there is fire. Some notes:

  • The rumors have moved beyond whether Norm would be retained or not, and in truth, that is a good thing. The school and the man couldn't wait until after the NIT selection to address this question with the NY media looking for something to tell. Or could they? There is no word on whether Fred Hill will be retained, after all.
  • Jon Rothstein of MSG network posted on Twitter that Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg thinks St. John's can't pony up the money to get him to NY; and also that Rutgers might be viewed as a better job. There may be some truth to that - state school resources, facilities to upgrade, a possible move to the Big Ten... St. John's will be pretty much what they are right now, which will be discussion for the summertime.
  • Some folks in the media and commenters on news articles bemoan the fact that Norm didn't get to coach his seniors. yes, they were getting better, but they weren't good enough. Actually, they made quite a leap this year, and Norm coached his best offense of his 6-year tenure (see table below):
    Numbers and records for Big East games only.
    Opp's Eff
    Eff Margin

    But he's not paid for "close". Who's to say the team would make the tournament next year? Let's say the Big East is considered weak in 2010-2011. And the team is 9-9 in conference, which would be another solid leap.

    And they lose a couple of "bad games such as Rutgers and Providence, like this year. That's a very plausible scenario. What then? You have a team that graduates 9 players that still isn't on the map with prospects, who are mostly signed by this point in the year. What then? An 8 win 2011? Firing the coach and leaving the next one with a decimated program?

  • Is it a bad move if St. John's can't get a "name" coach? I don't know that a name coach is the ticket, and St. John's is widely rumored to not have money for a Donovan or Pitino. But at this point, Norm Roberts can't sell "we're going to get better," because for 6 years, they have not gotten better. Even Tom Pecora can sell "things will be different when I'm in charge". In recruiting, change and excitement sometimes yields some promising recruits. Better recruits give a coach a better chance for winning results.

But we will see after Sunday's NIT selection whether he is done. This could be awkward; but it seems the time for wondering is coming to a close. I only wish the same Norm Roberts package came along with an ability to coax more consistent performances from his guys - not playing for 40 minutes as an excuse seems like a problem for the coach to figure out. But if they could have played hard the whole time...

And if they could be the aggressive and crisp that they were at their best all the time, this would be a team of hardcore grinders..

If they had a little more awareness...

If they shot a little better...

Lots of ifs.

Also read: 2010 College Basketball Hot Seat: Evaluate Your Up and Comers

A collection of links on Norm Roberts' possible firing:

NY Post: Sources: Roberts will be out at St. John’s

Multiple highly placed sources — in the athletic department, on the board of trustees and in the booster sector — told The Post that Roberts will not be retained for a seventh season.

"He has as much as integrity as anyone I’ve known," said one source. "He is as classy as anyone I’ve ever known. That’s what makes this so hard."

The fall for Roberts (81-100), whose annual package pays him about $650,000 will be lessened by a buyout of $700,000-$800,000, sources said.

Several sources at St. John’s said the university was prepared to offer a long-term (six years), lucrative ($1.5 million annually) deal to the right candidate.

Article goes on to say that targeted REALISTIC (nice work working that in there, Lenn!) candidates include Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, Iona's Kevin Willard, Siena's Fran McCaffery, Hofstra's Tom Pecora, and Harvard's Tommy Amaker. Which is the list (sans a name or two) that has been bandied about on the message boards for a while.

NY Post: Vac's Whacks - Thursday Whacks on the program formerly known as the Redmen

Vaccaro makes great points (though I do not completely agree) - if Norm is fired, the school must hire an established head coach and a coach with local ties is needed. I think the school needs to hire a good coach with successful D1 head coaching experience and also hire a guy who can identify assistants to get him in the door with NY AAU coaches. Norm Roberts had a lot of local connections, and recruited Charlie Villanueva to Illinois (who went to U Conn when the staff moved to Kansas) and Russ Robinson. Consider that Kevin Willard at Iona has brought in talent from St. Benedict's in NJ and some NY high schools with the help of a locally based coach, Shaheen Holloway, former Seton Hall star.

Zagsblog: Report: Norm Roberts Out at St. John’s

Yahoo Sports: Roberts’ time up at St. John’s?

AOL Fanhouse: Storm Clouds Surround Roberts' Future

Bergen Record/ Ian O'Connor: Why St. John’s should let a good man go

"If you were to ask our players who is the hardest playing team in the league," Williams would say for public consumption, "they would tell you St. John’s."

Yes, it is a fraternity that protects its own. The day before, even a notoriously bad loser named Jim Calhoun offered Roberts a lifeline by declaring that next year’s St. John’s team would end up among the top five or six in the Big East.

As if being in the top five or six of anything is worthy of a parade....

In a different life, I covered another St. John’s coach, Brian Mahoney, who thought his team was close. Mahoney was a good guy, too, and earned an extra season on the benefit of the doubt. It turned out to be a grim march to nowhere.

"I feel better about our team than I ever have," Roberts said.

He’ll make the NIT this time around, his first legitimate postseason trip. His Red Storm will play hard for him, because that’s what Norm Roberts’ players do.

But facts are facts: He was 24-84 at Queens College, without any resources, competing against other coaches without any resources. Now he’s 23 games under .500 at St. John’s.

NY Post/ Steve Serby: St. John's Roberts did it right way, but real success measured in wins

"The case for you obviously is how hard your kids play. . . . Do you understand maybe the case against you staying is there just haven't been enough wins?"

Roberts: "That's fair. That's all fair. We're paid to win games, that's the bottom line. But. . . . I think you're also paid along the process, and making sure things are right, and that you're doing the right things. . . . All we can do is do the right things and work really hard."

The Red Storm stormed back from a 27-17 halftime deficit yesterday and led 53-52 with 2:22 left, and you heard the old roar you used to always hear when Chris Mullin played fill the arena, and Lou Carnesecca was on his feet applauding. But they couldn't finish. Still hadn't learned how to how to win.

NY Daily News/ Dick Weiss: It's time for St. John's to break from Norm Roberts as Red Storm ousted from Big East tournament

NY Magazine: Good Night, Sweet Roberts

T.O.N.Y: Nice guys finish last